By perianal electrical stimulation and EMG recording from the external anal sphincter three responses were found with latencies of 2-8, 13-18 and 30-60 ms, respectively. The two first responses were recorded in most cases. They were characterised by constant latency and uniform pattern, were not fatigued by repeated stimulation, were most dependent on placement of stimulating and recording electrodes, and always had a higher threshold than the third response. The third response was constantly present in normal subjects. It had the longest EMG response and the latency decreased with increasing stimulation to a minimum of 30-60 ms. This response represented the clinical observable spinal reflex, "the classical anal reflex". The latencies of the two first responses were so short that they probably do not represent spinal reflexes. This was further supported by the effect of epidural anaesthesia which left the first responses unaffected but abolished the classical anal reflex. The origin of the two first responses is discussed and models involving antidromal impulse propagation in the efferent fibre as the afferent limbs of the responses are proposed.
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